The stress response in a healthy organism is generally viewed as a warning and thus a protective reaction to a threat. However, the response may be deleterious if it is linked to an inflammatory stimulus or if it proceeds an inflammatory event. Prior stress enhances the response to an inflammatory stimulus by a mechanism that is independent of the release of hypothalamic corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) or arginine vasopressin. Putative mechanisms include an increase in intestinal permeability as well as the release of the proinflammatory neuropeptide substance P. Stress may also reactivate previous inflammation when applied in conjunction with a small luminal stimulus. This reactivation involves increased permeability and requires the presence of T lymphocytes. Inflammatory mediators activate hypothalamic pathways, and a negative feedback loop, mediated by CRF release, has been proposed because animals with impaired hypothalamic CRF responses are more susceptible to inflammatory stimuli. Together, these experimental observations provide insights into the expression of inflammatory disorders in humans, including inflammatory bowel disease and postinfective irritable bowel syndrome.